Monday, February 25, 2008

Library Haul – “What I Need” Edition

I freed Maya to go color at the table/peruse the movies in the kids' section so I could browse the CD's right outside the gates at my leisure, but evidently there has been an outbreak of aggressive rule-following in my usual laid-back community. Just this weekend, we were at a laser tag birthday party which states one must be 48" tall and 7 years old to play, so I told Maya to lie and say she was seven, but the bastards had a yardstick and were pointedly quizzing each kid in line, so she got singled out for her adorable honesty. You know, Laser Tag, they aren't "real lasers," right?

Anyway, she bolted right back informing me that the lady said she had to have a grown up in there, so I glanced at the racks thinking, OK what do I need? It's a ludicrous question, because I don't need any of this, remotely. My own "needs" were quickly losing a battle to those of a categorically patient 6-year old freshly experiencing the frustrations of institutional draconia, so I came up with this quick list of needs, what am I out of, like I'm at the grocery store 5 minutes before they close, so I mentally jotted: R&B, string quartet, Charlie Parker and Indian music. So here is what I amassed in two minutes flat:

Charlie Parker/Dizzy Gillespie – Bird and Diz (Verve) – I know one is supposed to revere Charlie Parker and recognize that jazz as we know it would likely be some Dixieland bullshit without his innovations, but honestly anytime I've picked up a CD of his, I couldn't get into it. They are usually archival affairs that contain three consecutive takes of the same song over which the purists may salivate, but they make for difficult waters the un-indoctrinated to navigate. Dizzy Gillespie, on the other hand, has always been reliable in delivering the goods, and this meeting of the two is finger-snapping, congenial hipster splendor. And lo, the other players on this disk are none other than Buddy Rich, Thelonious Monk and Curly Russell. There are many repeats, including four versions of "Leap Frog," but with this noodling away in the spring breeze through my window as I try to make a remote database server behave, the songs lilt in relatively indistinguishable loveliness.

Shuggie Otis – Inspiration Information (Luaka Bop/Sheridan Square) – This lost funk-soul-rock octopus from 1974 is probably not the first place one should stop if you are needing some R&B on hand, but unto itself, it is a lovely, inspired record. Sweeter than Sly, rockier than Stevie Wonder, funkier than the jazz cats working this angle back then, Shuggie's shit is tight. I keep coming back to one song "Aht Uh Mi Hed" which is musically, one of the flimsiest. It's largely an organ plunked over a galloping drum machine, but Shuggie becomes a lovechild of Van Morrison and Stevie Wonder, swimming in a sea of strings that compete with the clip-clop beat. I heard it on the college radio station the other day, thinking it was one of those Brooklyn disco rockers that accidentally tripped over his vintage vans and fell into some actual soul, and was a little saddened to see what it actually was. I have picked up a copy of this album a couple times ever since David Byrne re-released it in 2001, and just like all those other times, its resets my dials on R&B for at least the next week.

Kronos Quartet – Kronos Quartet Performs Philip Glass (Nonesuch) – Choosing either Kronos or Glass from the classical music section will likely send an aficionado into fits of dull rage, but I will fess up to having a taste for both. Kronos always delivers in my book, even if they dare to loosen their collars so that the occasional regular music listener won't be scared off. Philip Glass, well, he's got that one thing he does and somehow, through endless variations on that one simple thing, I find something good in it. Compositionally, he's like the high art version of the Stooges – he lands on a good riff and just works that until the engine blows out. I've listened to his more flowery, romantic work and to be honest, it doesn't hold water as well as his trademark scale-runner numbers.

Ravi Shankar – Three Ragas (Angel) – If Philip Glass is a sputter-inducing, unimaginative choice for classical music, than Ravi Shankar is the baloney sandwich of Indian music, but like I said, I was in a hurry. Most folks would argue that one CD of ragas was one too many, but I can get down in the buzzing overtones and lines tracing up the stepladder frets of gorgeous instruments played by dedicated folks seated on perfumed cushions. I won't pretend to know the difference between a morning raga and an evening raga, or to tell from the improvised bits from those handed down from God's hands millennia ago. The liner notes of this disc, a reissue of Shankar's first LP, give you the breakdown should you want it. One thing did strike me as interesting is how Shankar had to adapt the instrument to his own needs:

Since my Guru did not play the sitar, I had to work very hard to create a suitable technique – after lots of experiments. I also had a special sitar made to suit my style and get my special sound. I emphasized getting the best of Surbahar (which I played for several years) as well as the specialties of sitar. My invention of the hook system to gag the bass strings in the faster parts has become a common thing with most sitars now.

Next thing you are going to tell me is that he plays it left-handed and upside down as well. It definitely flies against the impression that Indian classical music is a hopelessly orthodox form of music.

1 comment:

  1. it's easy to make the assumption that ravi shankar must be the "baloney sandwich" of indian classical because he's so popular and so associated with fairly bland east-meets-west collaborations. however, i think that assumption's pretty unfair.

    i'm no expert on raga myself, but i am a fairly avid fan of the form who has listened closely to many renowned giants, as well as a few lesser-known artists. while i tend to prefer the sitar work of ustad vilayat khan or nikhil banerjee, ravi shankar is a legitimate master of his idiom. he is as famous and renowned among his fellow indian classical musicians as he is in the (often tepid and dismissable) "world music" genre.

    i'm totally with you on the phillip glass thing, though!